Overview of BP’s Safety Record


For years leading up to the spill in the Gulf, BP routinely disregarded standard industry safety protocols and cut operational corners. The result was an environment where the question of major accidents became ‘when’, not ‘if’. Had BP been more focused on quality of work and employee safety, not only could the Deepwater Horizon disaster been avoided, but previous tragedies never would have occurred.

The story of BP’s diversion can be found in three parts below:

Profits Above Safety

In the 1990s during a ‘dash for growth’, former BP CEO Lord John Browne reduced internal costs while simultaneously expanding company operations drastically. Hundreds of engineering positions were left unfilled and BP relied instead on sub-contractors.

Unfortunately, this approach has led to a sequence of troubles. In 2005, an explosion caused by gross safety violations occurred at BP’s refinery in Texas City, TX. The explosion took the lives of 15 workers and injured 170 more. BP agreed to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that same year. The company promised to correct the safety lapses that caused the tragedy.

Earlier this year, five years after the Texas City disaster, OSHA announced it issued the largest fine in its history to BP – over $87 million dollars. The largest prior fine – $21 million – was also issued to BP. Of this record setting fine, $56.7 million related to failure to correct citations from 2005 and $30.7 million related to new safety violations.

A Culture of Carelessness

Over a five year period prior to the Gulf disaster, BP paid approximately $373 million in fines to the U.S. Department of Justice to avoid prosecution for breaking federal environmental and safety laws as well as committing outright fraud.

According to the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, BP facilities accounted for 97 percent of “egregious, willful” violations handed out by OSHA – that is a total of 760 violations for BP compared to eight for Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips, two for CITGO and one for Exxon.

Despite current CEO Tony Hayward’s testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that any employee on a BP rig has authority to shut down operations if safety is a concern, Kenneth Abbot, a former consultant on a BP rig, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Houston this year claiming his concerns over critical safety issues were ignored for years.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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